Despite the fact that Rob Macintyre is laden with the weight of some hundred-odd coffee packets in the oversized basket of his bike and in his messenger bag, I’m still having trouble keeping up with him. I’d like to blame it on my bad knee, but the fact is that even when I’m booking it, he manages to stay ahead of me. I try my best to keep up, though, because he has a very important job to do: Macintyre is in charge of keeping the people of Central London caffeinated—or at least, the ones that subscribe to Pact Coffee.
Pact Coffee, which launched in 2012, seems to have grown exponentially in recent months. The coffee subscription service works on a simple premise: coffee is roasted at Pact's Bermondsey headquarters, and is guaranteed to be delivered within one week of roasting to ensure freshness. If you order before 1PM on a weekday, Pact promises your beans will be with you the next day.
A few early adopters shared “try Pact for £1” codes on Twitter, and soon it seemed as though all of London was trying out this service, both dyed-in-the-wool coffee snobs and casual consumers alike. Somehow, Pact manages to sit fairly comfortably in the space between the two worlds, offering the quality and transparency that specialty buffs cherish, but also the non-condescending language and ease-of-access that other customers want.
For a few months now, Pact has (literally) gone the extra mile in the service for their Central London customers. That’s where Macintyre comes in. His company, Bycaboy, is a bike messenger and delivery service that has been going just short of two years.
“We tend to specialize in working with startup companies who have very specific delivery needs, as we can adjust how we work to fit with them rather than vice versa,” he explains. His pact with Pact was an auspicious twist of fate: while delivering a package from one of his other clients to the coffee company, he casually mentioned that they should consider having some of their deliveries done by bike. A few weeks later, the operations manager from Pact got in touch asking how they might go about starting such an undertaking.
If they had reservations, you can’t blame them. When considering the list of cities that you’d launch a bike courier coffee delivery program in, London could be either near the top or the bottom of the list, depending on your perspective. On the one hand, London has a well-established bike courier scene, and a density of both businesses and residences where Pact could deliver. On the other hand, London is famously unfriendly to cyclists, where it sometimes seems (if you follow the local papers or occasional viral YouTube video) as though cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers are constantly pitched in a war against each other. I, for one, would be especially nervous about navigating the cumbersome Pact Coffee bicycle around the narrow roads. But Macintyre’s Bycaboy business had the experience to back up their pitch and soon Pact had launched their cycle courier delivery.
Over the past couple of months, they have streamlined the process of delivering to over 100 customers a few days a week. Macintyre and his fellow couriers have fallen into their routine, arriving early on the days they deliver to plot out the map of their deliveries. They have visited most of the places enough times, however, that they don’t really need to study the map that closely. Instead, they seem to run off a reflexive memory of the side streets, one-way alleys, and lesser known thoroughfares of London. Now that they’ve proved the viability of the program, Macintyre and Pact are already looking to the future. “We are now at a stage where we are planning on scaling up deliveries and even considering moving the coffee by bike service to other cities. It’s all very exciting,” says Macintyre.
On a quiet square in Farringdon, where gray stone buildings are accentuated by colourful doors, I snap a few last pictures of Macintyre as he gently coaxes the flattened package through the gold letter slot. “Sometimes you have to work them through bit by bit,” he laughs. The drizzling rain has started again, so he zips up his jacket before pulling the next batch of deliveries from his waterproof messenger bag, sorting through them and quietly mapping out the next few streets in his mind. Even though we’ve covered about 10–15 miles already that morning, he still has about 25 more to go before his day is finished. We say our goodbyes as he places the bags in his basket and waves as he pulls away from the curb once more as the traffic of the waking city picks up.
Kate Beard is a Sprudge staff writer based in London. Read more Kate Beard on Sprudge.